Thursday 29 November 2012

The Battle of the Bulge

1.  Don't skip meals, especially breakfast, as the practice makes us crave higher calorie foods.

2.  Use smaller plates to control portion sizes.  Today's plates are significantly bigger than those made a generation or two ago.

3.  Count calories and measure portions.

4.  Don't blame your metabolism.

5.  Protein staves off hunger.  Have a few almonds an hour before a meal.

6.  Soup keeps you full longer.  The homemade kind of course is thicker and more satisfying and healthier than the canned variety.

7.  The wider the choice, the more you eat.  That's why buffets are deadly.

8.  Ingesting low fat diary helps us excrete more fat.

9.  Exercise helps us continue to burn fat even when we are sleeping.

10.  Keep moving.  Stay active.  Previous generations walked more often and were thinner.


Wednesday 28 November 2012

Lean on Me

"Lean on Me" movie poster courtesy 

"Welcome to the Jungle" blared on a ghetto blaster as slovenly students walked down the halls.  Graffiti covered every wall.  Drug deals went down in every corner.  A girl had an expensive blouse ripped right off her back.  A student screamed for help from his locker, after being locked in.    The principal hid in his office.  Most teachers hid in their classrooms.  One who dared to come out, attempted to break up a fight between two thugs, and paid with a vicious beating, landing him in the hospital.  Welcome to Eastside High.

Eastside High, located in Paterson, New Jersey, was once a successful school.  In fact, back in 1967, teacher Joe Clark taught history classes that were filled with eager students, on fire to learn.  It was an institution of learning.  The students learned and the teachers taught.  The principal ran the school.  A sense of school pride permeated the halls.  However, at that time, the teachers started to sell out to the union, sacrificing teaching standards for higher salaries.  Joe Clark saw the writing on the wall and left for an elementary school in the suburbs.

In the meantime, Eastside High quickly went downhill.  Graffiti started to appear on the bare walls.  Litter started to appear on the floor.  Drug dealers started to appear in the halls.  Discipline disappeared.  School spirit disappeared.  Learning disappeared.  High standards and high marks disappeared.  The principal disappeared.  And the thugs took over the school.

Twenty years passed and the state of New Jersey intervened when it was revealed that Eastside High students couldn't even pass the Minimum Basic Skills Test (only 33% passed).  Joe Clark was brought in from the suburbs to rescue the disastrous school.  He agreed to take over on one condition:  he would have free reign.

Joe Clark pulled up his sleeves and wasted no time getting to work.  One of the first moves he made was to gather a list from the teachers of all the drug dealers and takers in the school.  At Mr. Clark's first assembly, three hundred of them covered the stage like ants on an anthill.  As students in the seats watched unamused, the new principal declared that every one of the druggies was hereby expelled.  A hush went over the auditorium.  Mr. Clark had sent a powerful message to the student body.  He proceeded to put chains on all of the doors and arm himself with a baseball bat to protect his students from the drug dealers.

Then the new principal set to work cleaning up the school.  Students painted over the graffiti on the walls.  Others collected garbage.  Soon, the school looked more like it had when Joe Clark was a teacher there.

Next, he set to work improving Eastside High's test scores.  Each of the 200 plus teachers was expected to arrive early or stay late to tutor students who were struggling.  Everyone focussed on the task at hand.  Yet even though the students worked hard, they still were not able to bring their test scores up enough and a second test was scheduled.  Back to the grindstone went the teachers and students.

As Joe Clark walked Eastside's Halls, he tried to get to know the names of as many students as possible.  He made a point of saying hello and asking how each student's day was going.  He tried to build morale every chance he could get.  Once he found three boys simply wandering.  He asked them to visit the music teacher and rewrite the school song.  In a short time, the school choir was belting out "Fair Eastside" and all of the students were expected to learn the song.

However, just as the school was starting to get back on track, a bitter parent, whose son was expelled, threw a monkey wrench into Mr. Clark's plan.  The fire department arrived one day unannounced and arrested the principal for chaining the doors, a fire code violation.  He was hauled off to jail.  Eastside students picketed the jail, supporting Mr. Clark's attempt to keep them safe from the drug dealers.  The principal was released just in time to get the news that Eastside students had passed the Basic Skills Test!

Joe Clark was not a bureaucrat.  He was not a paper pusher.  He was not politically correct.  He did not hide in his office.  He stood up for what was right.  He stood up for the truth.  He stood up for his students.  He was a true leader -- something rare in our society.  He turned a jungle back into a school (no small task).
Fair Eastside will never forget their beloved principal.

Photo of Morgan Freeman as Joe Clark in "Lean on Me" (1989) courtesy 

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Caves

Here are ten facts about caves, which can be found all over the world, including here in Canada.

1.  Caves are giant holes in the earth that run horizontally underground.  Vertical holes in the earth are called potholes.

2.  The most spectacular caves, found in limestone, are called caverns.  Acid rain trickles through cracks in the rock and wears away cavities.

3.  The largest single cave is called Sarawak Chamber found in Malaysia.

4.  The deepest cave gallery, at a depth of 800 metres, is found in the French Pyrenees.

5.  The longest cave is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, U.S.A.

6.  Stalactites are icicle-like speleotherms that hang from the ceiling of the cave (the largest on record is 6.2 metres long).  Stalagmites are icicle-like formations that poke up from the ceiling floor.

7.  Caves often reveal the history of the local primitive people and prehistoric creatures.

8.  Europeans sometimes use caves to age cheese or wine.  The Italian word for cave is "grotto".

9.   Glacier caves form due to the movement and melting of ice.  Sea caves form when waves hit the weak parts of a sea cliff.  Lava tubes form after volcanic activity.

10.  Species that live in caves are called troglobites.  They include:  olms (dragon like amphibians), pseudoscorpions, wolf-spiders, cave snails and cave beetles.

Photo of Yellow Dragon Cave courtesy 

Monday 26 November 2012

City of Culture, Cuisine, Chiese & Caves

University of Naples students did a study on the underground network of caves beneath their city.  They discovered 900 caves, but estimated that they had only discovered a third of them.  They discovered skeletal remains and found out that centuries ago the caves were used to house the victims of epidemics.  The students also found out that the caves were used as aqueducts and waste dumps.  They served as meeting places for religious groups as well.  But what might have been the highest purpose for the caves came during the Allied bombings of World War II.

Before the war, Neapolitans enjoyed a city full of culture, cuisine and "chiese" (church).  Art treasures were tucked away in the city's galleries. Naples was the birthplace of famous Italian dishes like pizza and canneloni.  Residents would compete in an annual Spaghetti eating contest.  Food was an integral part of their daily lives.  Church was also an important part of their existence.  Many attended the famous Church of Santa Chiara to partake in mass.

But during World War II everything changed.  Food became scarce and Neapolitans were forced to scavenge and steal scraps to survive.  The black market thrived; prices were exorbitant as a mere bottle of olive oil cost a month's wages.  Long queues formed for something as basic as water.

Naples dockyard in ruins courtesy 

With the German occupation, the Nazis gave the order to round up 30,000 of Naples' men to be deported to labour camps.  Many protested during a four-day resistance ("Quattro Giornale di Napoli") that drove the Nazis out of the city.  But with no respite, the Neapolitans were intensely bombed by the Allies in September of 1943.  Citizens sought shelter in the 900 caves underneath the city as well as hillside caves outside the metropolis.  In each "grotto" families set up makeshift rooms where they would hang blankets to create a bedroom.  They set up makeshift stoves.  They hung makeshift clotheslines.  They even decorated the walls with sketches (World War II bombers).  Neapolitans did whatever they could to make the caves comfortable and homey.

Neapolitans seek shelter in caves courtesy 

In the end, 20,000 Neapolitans were killed and 10,000 were rendered homeless during the 200 air raids over their city.  Naples would go down in history as the most heavily bombed city in Italy.  However, its citizens never gave up.  And the caves played a big part in their survival.

Neopolitan children return to school after bombings courtesy 

Sunday 25 November 2012

How to Grow Gratitude


Image courtesy

Today our family watched Mr. Magoo's "A Christmas Carol".  Of course it starts with Scrooge, played by Mr. Magoo, counting his gold coins.  Although his money bag is full, his heart is empty. After having visits from the four ghosts, Scrooge has a rebirth.  He visits his overworked employee's household where he gets down on all fours and plays horsey with Tiny Tim.  Shocked, Bob Cratchit comments that his boss has become like a child again.  It reminded me of the Scripture verse:  "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 3:18)

Image courtesy 

It is so easy for us to complain about what we don't have rather than rejoice in what we do have.  However, we know that it is those who count their blessings are the happiest.  We wait and wait for the big events to happen:  the big job offer, the big house, the new job, the new spouse, the new baby.  But we don't take the time to notice the little things:  the warm smile that the cashier gave us; the person that held the door for us; the compliment someone gave us.

A Kansas City minister gave a 21 day challenge to everyone:  try to refrain from complaining.  He handed out wrist bands that said "NO COMPLAINT".  With a physical reminder like a wrist band, he thought ithey would be more likely to notice when they were complaining and try to reverse the bad habit.  The minister's challenge is something that we all should try.

Image courtesy 

As one blogger points out, gratitude is not the reaction to getting what we want, it is a state of mind.  It is something that we should feel all the time, regardless of our circumstance.  Material things provide us with only fleeting pleasure.  Only God can provide us with eternal joy.

People who notice the simple pleasures, who are aware of their blessings, who realize that life itself is a miracle, are happier more resilient individuals.  They form stronger relationships, they enjoy better health, they experience less stress and they achieve their personal goals more often.

Like Scrooge, we need visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.  We need to have everything we hold near and dear taken away from us.  Only then will we realize how precious our blessings are; how precious life is.  Only then will we get down on all fours and play horsey with our children.  Only then will we live life to the fullest.

Image courtesy 

As Meister Eckhart said:  "If the only prayer you say in your life is 'thank you', that would suffice."

Saturday 24 November 2012

Lincoln & Kennedy: A Parallel Universe

It was on this day in 1963 that Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy, was shot by Jack Ruby at the Dallas Police Station in front of the flash of media cameras.  While the Warren Commission claimed that Oswald acted alone, conspiracy theories later appeared suggesting that others could have been involved like the Mafia or the CIA (see my post titled "Welcome to Dallas, Mr. Kennedy" dated November 22, 2011).  Others have suggested that Lincoln's assassination might have also been a conspiracy.  Here are several similarities between the two Presidents.

Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946
He was elected President in 1860He was elected President in 1960
His wife lost a child while living in the White HouseHis wife lost a child while living in the White House
He was directly concerned with Civil RightsHe was directly concerned with Civil Rights
Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy who told him not to go to the theater *1Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln who told him not to go to Dallas *2
Lincoln was shot in the back of the head in the presence of his wifeKennedy was shot in the back of the head in the presence of his wife
Lincoln shot in the Ford TheatreKennedy shot in a Lincoln, made by Ford
He was shot on a FridayHe was shot on a Friday
The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was known by three names, comprised of fifteen lettersThe assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was known by three names, comprised of fifteen letters
Booth shot Lincoln in a theater and fled to a warehouse *3Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and fled to a theater
Booth was killed before being brought to trialOswald was killed before being brought to trial
There were theories that Booth was part of a greater conspiracyThere were theories that Oswald was part of a greater conspiracy
Lincoln's successor was Andrew Johnson, born in 1808Kennedy's successor was Lyndon Johnson, born in 1908

Furthermore, both were assassinated by Southerners.  The male companion of the couple that accompanied them was wounded by the assassin.  Both presidents married a 24 year old woman with dark hair.  Both stood over 6 feet tall.  Both presidents had a lazy eye.  Both men suffered from genetic diseases (Lincoln had Marfan's Disease while Kennedy had Addison's Disease).  Both served in the military (Lincoln in the Black Hawk War, Kennedy in World War II).  Both men held jobs as boat captains (Lincoln on a Mississippi Riverboat, Kennedy on the PT-109).

The list is endless.  For more information, google

Photo courtesy 

Friday 23 November 2012

The Mona Lisa Caper

Photo courtesy

"It is the best known, most visited, most written about, most sung about, most parodied work of art in the world."

On August 21, 1911, an employee at the Louvre Musee in Paris noticed that there were only four pegs on the wall where the Mona Lisa had hung for five years.  The Paris Police were immediately called and 60 investigators were dispatched.  Despite the attention it received, it would take the Paris Police over two years to get back their precious "objet d'art".

The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci between 1503 and 1506.  For years it hung in the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy.  However, during the Napoleonic wars, the dictator took the famous painting to France where it hung in his bedroom.  In 1804, it was placed in the Louvre Museum in Paris.  Some Italians, however, never forgot Napoleon's theft of the painting and felt it belonged in Italy, including a man named Vincenzo Perugia.

Signor Perugia used to admire the Mona Lisa when he worked as a carpenter at the Paris Museum in 1908.  He built a protective case for the painting so that visitors couldn't damage it.  Although his work ended at the museum, he never forgot about the famous painting.  On a Monday when the Louvre was closed to visitors, he decided that he would act.  He entered the museum, unlocked the case, removed the painting and took it into a stairwell where he removed the frame.  Then he left the Louvre with the art treasure wrapped in a painters smock tucked under his arm.

Photo of empty space on wall at the Louvre circa 1911 courtesy 

For months, the Mona Lisa sat in Vincenzo's Paris apartment, no one the wiser.  However, one day someone started to suspect that the painting was nearby and Signor Perugia started to worry he would be discovered.

An antique art dealer named Alredo Geri put an ad in the paper looking for "objets d'art".  He received a response to his ad from a man named "Leonardo Vincenzo" saying that he would meet him in Italy with the painting.  He packed it in his car and motored out of Paris.  Over the rolling hills and past the sculptured evergreen trees went the Mona Lisa on its way "home" according to its captor.

The two gentlemen met in Milan at the appointed time and "Leonardo" offered him the Mona Lisa for half a million lire.  A condition of the sale would be that the painting would be hung in the Uffizi.  Signor Geri agreed to the sale and when it took place, the police were there to arrest the thief of the Mona Lisa.

For a few weeks the painting was displayed in Italy, but then it was returned to France on December 30, 1913.  Vincenzo Perugia served several months in jail for his crime.  However, many Italians did not see him as a criminal but as a patriot, rewarding him with so many gifts (food, wine, clothing, furniture) that he had to be moved to a bigger cell to fit all of his belongings.

The Mona Lisa still hangs in the Louvre today.  However, in 1963, President and Mrs. Kennedy had the honour of hosting the painting for a short time in Washington D.C.

Note:  Read the picture book The Mona Lisa Caper by Rick Jacobson.

President & Mrs. Kennedy with the Mona Lisa circa 1963 courtesy 

Thursday 22 November 2012

The Commercialization of Christmas

Rob heard on the radio a couple of weeks ago that Shoppers Drug Mart customers were treated to Christmas music on the day after Halloween.  Some of them lodged complaints and the music was stopped (at least for the time being).

I shopped for groceries last week and saw gift cards at the cashier marked "Happy Holidays".  I nicely asked the cashier:  "Do you think it would make a difference if I wrote a letter to No Frills stating that I won't buy products that say Happy Holidays?"  She responded by saying that someone had told her that if Walmart employees said the dreaded words "Merry Christmas" to their customers they could be fired.

What is this world coming to?  Businesses can't wait to start advertising for Christmas.  They can't wait to start decorating for Christmas.  They can't wait to capitalize on Christmas. And yet they refuse to call it Christmas!  We live in a society that was founded on Judeo-Christian values, and yet people want to conveniently forget that fact.  They want to take the meaning out of Christmas.

I feel like renting a blimp with the words MERRY CHRISTMAS emblazoned on the side floating over the city of Brantford.  It's pretty sad that in a day and age when it's become more and more acceptable to swear, we can't say the word Christmas.  Who is offended by Christmas?  Is it the Muslims?  I beg to differ.  I have taught Muslim students; I have done Christmas crafts with Muslim students.  I have even explained to them the meaning of Christmas.  And yet their parents have not complained.  It's the politically correct police who are offended by it.

One of the only ways that I can protest is to vote with my feet.  A couple of years ago, Rob and I ate at a Tim Horton's in Hamilton that actually had the words "Merry Christmas" stenciled on the window.  I made a point of filling out a customer comment card commending them on their sign.  I should take the time to do that more often.  I will seek out the word CHRISTMAS and keep a list of businesses that use the "taboo" word.  Christians need to take back the celebration of Christ's birth.  It's too precious to be reduced to a "holiday".

Cartoon courtesy 

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Dark Chocolate: A Natural Remedy

My husband Rob suggested that we start eating a small amount of dark chocolate each day after he noticed at McFit that we could improve our workouts by 50%.  He didn't need to twist my arm since I'm already a chocolate lover.  However, I grew up eating milk chocolate; dark chocolate could take some getting used to.      At first I tried a bar of 70% dark cocoa and it was good but not great.  Then I tried Cadbury's Dark Chocolate bar and it was excellent (I suspect it's 50%).  I was hooked!  Here are some other benefits of eating "le chocolat noir".

1.  Dark chocolate contains antioxidants which counteract free radicals in the body.

2.  It lowers blood pressure.

3.  It lowers LDL cholesterol by as much as 10%.

4.  It fights cancer (like red wine, blueberries, garlic and tea) by inhibiting the division of cells and reducing inflammation.

5.  It prevents tooth decay (as long as it's not full of sugar) by eliminating bacteria in the oral cavity.

6.  It lengthens life and prevents disease.  One Dutch study followed 200 men for 20 years and found those who ingested dark chocolate regularly lived longer and were less prone to disease.  Jeanne Louise Calment, the world's longest living person at 122 years of age, consumed 2.5 pounds of dark chocolate per week.

7.  It contains magnesium which improves the digestive, neurological and cardiovascular systems.

8.  It cleans up the arteries like a broom sweeping a floor.

9.  It improves brain health by shielding the nerve cells and strengthening the memory.

10.  It acts as a natural anti-depressant by boosting endorphins.

So, break open a bar of dark chocolate.  Condition yourself to eat just a few squares each day (I eat three). Your body will thank you!

Monday 19 November 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know about Lincoln

Drawing of Lincoln signing Emancipation Proclamation courtesy http:// 

On this day in 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation (see post dated November 19, 2011).  Here are ten things you may not know about the 16th president of the United States.

1.  Lincoln was inducted into the American Wrestling Hall of Fame.  In his youth, he participated in 300 wrestling matches, winning all but one.

2.  Lincoln signed a law establishing the Secret Service only hours before his assassination in 1865.  However, the Secret Service wouldn't have saved him since they were intended to catch counterfeiters.  It was not only two more presidents were assassinated, Garfield and McKinley, that the Secret Service was assigned to protect the president (1901).

3.  In 1876, grave robbers in Springfield, Illinois intended on digging up Lincoln's grave and holding his corpse for $200,000 ransom money in exchange for the release of their imprisoned counterfeiter friend.  However, the Secret Service caught wind of the plot, dug up the president's body and buried it in an unmarked grave.  Later it was re-buried in a cage under ten feet of concrete.

4.  Only months before Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theatre, his assassin John Wilkes Booth's brother, Edwin Booth, saved Lincoln's son who had fallen off a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey.  Edwin was a famous actor at the time.

Edwin Booth as Hamlet circa 1870 courtesy 

5.  Patent #6469 belongs to Lincoln, the only patent to be held by a president.  He invented a device in 1849 to keep vessels afloat in shallow waters.

6.  Lincoln test fired muskets and rifles used in Civil War combat on the National Mall, even though such a practice was against the law in the District of Columbia.

Lincoln testing a rifle courtesy 

7.  Lincoln visited the battlefield when the Confederates attacked the Union Army in Washington D.C.  He was almost shot, ducking just in time under the parapet of a trench.

8.  Although Lincoln is known as an Illinois resident, he was actually born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana. He did not move to Illinois until he was 21 years old.

9.  Poisoned milk killed his mother who drank the substance from a cow that had ingested poisonous white snakeroot.

10.  The 16th president never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom.  He used it for an office; in fact, that is where he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Photo of Lincoln circa November 1863 courtesy 

Sunday 18 November 2012

Disney's Doodle on a Train Ride

He boarded the train in New York  bound for Los Angeles, discouraged at how poorly his business meeting had gone.  A cartoonist by trade, he had created a rabbit name Oswald, intending on making him the star of a short film, but he was short on financing.  He had come to the Big Apple to ask for money from Universal, only to be turned down.  He wanted to take his rabbit and run, but the corporation told him that they had sole rights to the rabbit.  Reluctantly, he parted ways with the company and the character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  Now he would have to start from scratch.

On the train west, he furiously started scribbling sketches for a new character.  Should it be a horse?  How about a cow?  No, a mouse!  He had cared for a pet mouse on his farm in the Midwest as a boy.  Mice were cute animals that kids could relate to.  Once he decided on the animal, he had to pick a name.  Mortimer came to mind, but his wife told him that his choice was too pompous.  So, he replaced it with the name Mickey, which his wife immediately liked.  By the time the cartoonist and his wife disembarked the train in Los Angeles, he had a character for his new short film.  He would be Mickey Mouse.

Mickey Mouse took shape quickly.  Walt Disney gave him red shorts with large buttons along with clown-like yellow shoes (although he would be black in white in the movie).  Co-creator Ub Iwerks paid particular attention to detail as he helped with the animation for the upcoming film.  He designed Mickey with three fingers rather than four, thinking that four would have made his hands "banana-like".  Also, a fourth finger would have added thousands of dollars to the animation cost.

Disney's first short film "Steamboat Willie" debuted at the Colony Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1928.  The first sound synchronized cartoon was so well received that Walt went on to make many more short films, which would be billed on the theatre marquee above the main feature.

In the coming years, Disney made 21 shorts including:  Gallopin' Gaucho, Barn Dance, The Opry House, The Chain Gang and Mickey's Orphans.  The 1930's was the heydey of the shorts and in 1932, Walt debuted his first colour film.  Mickey Mouse took on several different roles including:  a fireman, cowboy, inventor, detective, plumber and bandmaster.  For certain roles he donned special clothes including a smart red jacket for the role of bandmaster.  Walt Disney did the voice-overs for Mickey for several years.

In the meantime, Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney collaborated to make several friends for Mickey;  Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluti, Donald Duck, Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar.  Mickey became the star of his first feature length film, one of an eventual nine such movies.

World War II interrupted production at Disney where the cartoonist started putting out movies for the war effort.  Mickey Mouse's image graced war bonds posters.  His name also became a code for the Allied invasion on D-Day.  It was also around this time that Walt relegated the role of Mickey's voice-overs to an employee, feeling he no longer had the time to devote to the job.

After the war, Walt returned to making fun movies.  He also ventured into television in the 1950's, as Disney debuted a show in which children shouted "M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!" every week, sporting mouse ears on their heads.  By 1955, Mickey became the host of an amusement park unlike any other.  It was at Disneyland that Mickey's creator reminded everyone:  "I only hope we don't lose sight of one thing -- that it was all started by a mouse."

Image courtesy

Saturday 17 November 2012

The Most Famous Baseball Card Ever

Image courtesy 

It sold for 3 million dollars, one of only 57 in the world.  And yet it was just a rectangular piece of cardboard, 1 8/16 inches by 2 5/8 inches.  It was just a baseball card which came in a package of chewing tobacco back in the 1920's.  But it wasn't just any card, it was Honus Wagner's card, the most famous baseball card ever.

Honus Wagner grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of nine children born to hard-working German immigrants.  He was an "ugly duckling" with legs so bowed that he could tie his shoes without bending over.  He attended a Lutheran school up to Grade 6 and then dropped out to  work in the coal mines.  He built muscles quickly hauling two tons of coal a day for 79 cents.  That was his lot in life, or so he thought.

Honus found respite, however, from the coal mines on the baseball diamond where he and his family would go on Sundays after church.  He became known for his speed, adopting the nickname "The Flying Dutchman" (Dutch was a corruption of "Deutsch", meaning German).  At the age of 22, he was signed on by a team from Paterson, New Jersey.  He soon signed up with the Louisville Colonels.  Within two years, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a contract that would last for 20 years.

One tale says that Honus was so fast that he had no patience for other players.  One time he picked up a slow base runner and carried him to the plate.  Another story says that he loosened mouthy Ty Cobb's teeth with a slug at a game.  Nonetheless, he set some impressive records:  he led the league in slugging six times and he led the league in stolen bases five times.

Author Jane Yolen points out, however, that Honus Wagner didn't play baseball for the records, for the big bucks, for the drug money or for the fame:  he played simply for the love of the game.  In 1936, when the Baseball Hall of Fame opened, his name was inducted and his #33 jersey was retired.  And to think that the coal miner from Pittsburgh, who didn't have two cents to rub together, would end up on a baseball card worth 3 million dollars!

Photograph of shortstop Honus Wagner courtesy 

For more information, read picture book All Star:  Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever (Jane Yolen & Jim Burke).

Friday 16 November 2012

Whoever Believes Will Achieve

Photo courtesy 

"That whoever shall say to this mountain, Be you removed, and be you cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he said shall come to pass; he shall have whatever he said."  (Mark 11;23)

When I was a teenager, I used to watch downhill skiing religiously.  Those were the days of the Crazy Canucks and they were a force to be reckoned with.  While the slopes were ruled by the Europeans for decades, the Crazy Canucks changed all that when Ken Read ascended to the top of the podium in 1975, the first North American to ever win a World Cup race.  Within 7 years, Steve Podborski was the first North American to win an entire World Cup season.

When I watched each Crazy Canuck at the top of the mountain, he would close his eyes, and mentally go through the twists and turns of the course, his hand winding back and forth like a snake as he did so, before he entered the starting gate.  While his daring nature was what got him to the top of the mountain, visualization was the key to conquering it.  

I googled visualization and found that over 90% of Olympic athletes practice this technique.  In fact, an Olympic gymnast named Alex was interviewed by NBC Evening Magazine about her mental preparation for competition.  She had faced a nasty crash in which she did a backwards flip, froze in mid-air, and landed on her back.  For months she could not do a backwards flip on the mat and had to resort to landing in a pile of foam.  However, she started visiting a psychologist who told her she must conquer the fear in her mind before she could conquer it on the mat.  He taught her visualization techniques to overcome her anxiety.  Now she is able to perform back flips again in competition.  

Runners also use visualization.  Mark Plaatjes used this technique at the World Running Championships in 1993, snatching the victory in the last 3 minutes of the race.  

Baseball players even use this technique.  While Hank Aaron's teammates were playing cards in the clubhouse, he would be out on the baseball field visualizing the opposing team's pitcher, and taking practice "slugs" accordingly.  He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his efforts.

According to one expert, when athletes visualize, their visualizations need to be specific and detailed.  They need to visualize both the good and the bad; to be prepared for either circumstance.  Being prepared means they will be more confident.  Visualization helps them strengthen the mind/body connection.  Apparently, the brain makes no distinction between the image and the practice, if the image is vivid enough.  

Sources:  NBC Evening Magazine
               Mental Preparation:   The Key to Exceptional Performance
               Big Man Mental Coaching

For more information about visualization, read:

1.  Mental Training for Peak Performance (Steven Ungerleider)
2.  Creative Visualization:  Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Life (Shakti Gawain)

Crazy Canucks Ken Read, "Jungle Jim" Hunter, Dave Irwin, Dave Murray (missing is Steve Podborski who later won the World Cup) circa mid 1970's courtesy 

Thursday 15 November 2012

Green Fog, Empty People & Quiet Infants

Words evolve over time.  Their meaning a century ago might not be their meaning today.  Here are some words whose meaning has changed over generations.

1.  ACCENT, meaning to emphasize or stress, comes from the Latin word "canere" meaning to sing.

2.  BELLBOY used to mean a boy who rang a bell on a ship.

3.  CENTURY, a length of 100 years, used to mean a 100-man army (hence the term "centurion").

4.  DIAPER, to cover a baby's bottom, means "pure white" and used to refer to fabric with a pattern of small diamonds.

5.  EMPTY which means unoccupied used to mean unmarried.

6.  FOG, which is low-lying clouds, used to be coarse grass; foggy could be interchanged with mossy.

7.  GRIN, a small smile, used to mean to scowl, to show one's teeth in anger.

8.  HEARTBURN, an uncomfortable sensation in the chest caused by indigestion, used to refer to jealousy or hatred.

9.  INFANT, a baby, used to mean a child of any age who could not speak.

10.  JUMBO, something gigantic, is the name of a famous elephant that weighed 13,000 pounds.  It used to mean "chief" in Swahili and referred to someone large and clumsy.

11.  KEISTER, someone's bottom, used to refer to a suitcase.

12.  LAST used to mean the highest or the utmost.

13.  MILLINER, a person who makes ladies' hats, used to be a person from Milan, Italy.

Jumbo the Elephant, who lived in the London Zoo and later performed for Barnum & Bailey Circus, courtesy 

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Peanut Butter Squares

Easy No-Bake Peanut Butter Squares (Kraft)*

*In celebration of National Peanut Butter Month.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup peanut butter
1-1/2 pkg. (12 squares) semi-sweet baking chocolate
2 cups powdered sugar
  1. Line a 13x9-inch baking pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides of pan. Set aside.
  2. Melt butter in large microwaveable bowl on high 45 sec. until melted. Add sugar, graham cracker crumbs and peanut butter; mix well. Spread into prepared pan
  3. Microwave chocolate in microwaveable bowl on high 1-1/2 to 2 min. or until melted, stirring after each min.
  4. Cool slightly; pour over peanut butter mixture in pan. Cool.
  5. Cut partially through dessert to mark 48 squares. Refrigerate 1 hour or until set.
  6. Lift from pan, using foil handles. Cut all the way through dessert into squares.
Makes 4 dozen squares.

Source URL:

Photo courtesy 

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Do Not Fear

The Bible says "Do not fear" 366 times.  That's one reminder for each day of a leap year.  And yet, we spend a large portion of our life in fear.  We worry about the little things.  We worry about the big things.  We worry about being on time for appointments.  We worry about what present to buy for someone's birthday.  We worry about what to make for dinner.  We worry about the laundry and the dishes.  We worry about losing weight.  We worry about our health.  We worry about what other people think.  We spend so much time worrying that we don't have time to enjoy the joyful moments in our lives.  We don't have any energy left to devote to what's really important.

I remember reading a story about a year ago about a man whose daughter asked him to put together a toy house.  He really didn't want to do it.  He had a million other things he felt were more pressing than the house.  However, he reluctantly agreed to build the house with his daughter.  They really enjoyed the process and he was glad he took the time to do it.  Within days, his daughter was killed in an accident.  While struggling with his grief, he had that precious memory to hang on to.

We can learn from that story.  We can live in the moment.  For that's all we have, a moment.  We don't know what the future holds.  Let go of the fear.  Hang on to the God's blessings.   Hang on to God's strength, knowing that He will get us through, no matter what.

"Be strong and of a good courage.  Do not be afraid.  For the Lord thy God goes with thee; and He will never fail thee nor forsake thee." (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Monday 12 November 2012

Hauntingly Beautiful Art

It is amazing to see how much art was produced during the world wars, given that countries were so short on   money.  While people lined up at soup kitchens, the government still found the funds to hire official war artists.  These artists capture the trenches of World War I and the air battles of World War II.  They render the horror and the valour of war on canvas in a hauntingly beautiful way.  Here is some of their work.

1.  La Mitrailleuse (Christopher Nevinson, 1915)

Image courtesy

2.  Belligerents (1914-1918)

Image courtesy

3.  Over the Top (John Nash, 1918)

Image courtesy

4.  The Ypres Salient at Night (Paul Nash, 1918)

Image courtesy

5.  Gassed (John Singer Sargent, 1918)

6.  A Battery Shelled (Percy Lewis, 1919)

7.  We Are Making a New World (Paul Nash, 1918)

Image courtesy

8.  On Wings and a Prayer (William Phillips, 1940)

Image courtesy

9.  Siege of Leningrad (1941-1944)

10.  The 2000 Yard Stare (Tom Lea, 1942)

Image courtesy

11.  Operation Tidal Wave (Nicolas Trudgeon, 1943)


12.  Unknown Title (Thomas Hart Benton, 1941-1943)

Sunday 11 November 2012

War Comes to East Prussia

Painting of King's Castle courtesy 

As a little girl, I would travel with my parents to the city of Koenigsberg to sell our potatoes at the market.  Walking along the sidewalk, I would look way up at the turrets of the King’s Castle where Frederick the Great was sworn in.

As an adult, World War II brought the British bombings, making the city a smouldering ruins and the castle, a burnt out shell. 

As a little girl, my sister and I would spot the flags on the ships sailing through the Frisches Haff, a freshwater lagoon opening to the Baltic Sea.

As an adult, thousands of refugees fleeing the enemy advance crossed the frozen Frisches Haff to waiting rescue boats.  But we never made it to the Haff, our horse spooked by gunfire.

As a little girl, I would dream of my wedding day. 

As an adult, I read the report saying my husband went missing in action on the Eastern Front

Photo of Elfriede (top left), Otto, Manfred & Irmgard circa 1943 courtesy Elfriede Neumann.

As a little girl, my father built U-boats in Hamburg.

As an adult, a Russian u-boat torpedoed and sank the ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, drowning 9000 East Prussian refugees in the icy Baltic Sea.  That was the ship I was supposed to board!

As a little girl, I used to hunt for Easter eggs in the forest only 100 metres from our house.

Photo of Easter eggs courtesy 

As an adult, the same forest was hiding Russian soldiers ready to invade our village.

As a little girl, my father would cut down a tree in our forest on Christmas Eve and decorate it in the parlour while we waited outside the door

As an adult, my parents’ parlour overflowed with Russian soldiers shouting:  “Ten minutes to get out!”

As a little girl, I would admire my mother’s jewelry, made from amber floating on the Baltic Sea

Photo of Elfriede's amber broach courtesy Thomas Jonasson.

As an adult, the Russians stole my jewelry, even my wedding ring.

As a little girl, I would receive a report card from my teacher, Herr Laucht, at the Nautzwinkel School.

As an adult, my little girl could not attend school since it was occupied by enemy soldiers.

As a little girl, my father ran for mayor; we went door to door, campaigning for votes from our Nautzwinkel neighbours.

As an adult, enemy soldiers took my farmhouse, livestock, crops and furniture.  My children and I went door to door looking for shelter, roaming the Prussian plains.

As a little girl, I would wake up to the birds chirping as they made nests in our forest.

Photo courtesy 

As an adult, I watched my niece eat a bird’s nest to survive.

As a little girl, I played truant from school since I had a fever.

As an adult, a fever kept me in bed for weeks.  A nice nurse said I had malaria and gave me quinine pills to get better.

As a little girl, I would devour the sausages cooked by my mother, purchased from our butcher.

As an adult, my little girl and her Opa went on a scrounging tour in Lithuania.  At one house, Opa stole the meat cooking on the stove so his granddaughter could eat.

As a little girl, my mother and I would bake topfkuchen, a marble cake, using an old family recipe.


As an adult, I dug a hole to bury my mother since she had no food to eat. 

As a little girl, my sister and I would play with the wooden kitchen set carved by our father.

As an adult, I buried my sister soon after my parents.  I took in her children whose father was still at the Front.

As a little girl, I would run as fast as I could when I played tag.

As an adult, my little boy ran as fast as he could away from Russian soldiers looking for German children to kidnap.

As a little girl, I was proud of myself the first time I went on the potty. 

As an adult, my daughter and I went to the washroom in a cooking pot on a cattle train, expelled from our homeland by the Russians. 

Photo of East Prussian expellees courtesy

As a little girl, I was separated from my father as he served in World War I.

As an adult, I was separated from my son for a whole year.  Thanks to a chance meeting my sister had on a Lithuanian road with my little boy and his grandparents, we were reunited.

As a little girl, Herr Laucht taught us about the Russian Revolution and the Communists.

As an adult, the Communists took over East Germany.  In Ruhla, I worked so hard at my factory job that I was given many medals by the Communists.

As a little girl I would hear the trains whistle as they left Koenigsberg station.

Photo courtesy

As an adult, my children and I escaped from East to West Berlin on an underground train. 

As a little girl, I was amazed by World War I flying ace, Manfred von Richtofen, nicknamed the Red Baron, who downed dozens of enemy planes.

As an adult, I flew in a plane for the first time from West Berlin to West Germany, my escape now complete.

As a little girl, I would listen attentively to Herr Laucht as he pointed out different countries on his map, including Canada.

As an adult, I steamed west across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada aboard the Castel Felice


Map of Oma's route from East Prussia to East Germany to West Germany to Canada courtesy Thomas Jonasson.  

As an East Prussian, I suffered under the Nazis and the Communists.

As a Canadian, I am free.

In memory of Rob's Oma, Elfriede Neumann (1911-2007).

Photo of Elfriede (Oma) courtesy Elfriede Neumann.